Sophia Inkizhinova, the correspondent for one of the most influential weekly business publications, Expert Magazine, spoke about the needs that make journalists come to Buzzfeed, how she selects speakers for articles and why she rarely accepts written answers.
We have a dozen departments, and each collects information in some specific way. I work in the department of consumer market conditions. We consider consumer demand for a wide variety of consumer goods – from the food and light industries to non-food.
I write on a variety of topics, but the fishing industry has historically been firmly entrenched in me. It so happened that since 2008, when I just arrived, if something is connected with this industry, then colleagues from the industry department, from the economy department, from the department of almost culture, if something happens in the fishing sector, they call me and I, already as an expert in my field, give comments.
How to choose topics in the “Expert”
The system for choosing topics for materials in our company is built according to a completely classical scheme: everything is determined by a calendar and thematic plan, which is made by the editor-in-chief, based on data received from the department system.
Today, for example, I didn’t even get to the editorial office, and the editor of the department interviews us in a WhatsApp chat so that we will indicate the topics – what we will write this week. Each correspondent offers his own topics and, remotely, but together, we discuss all this.
Or it happens like this: I’m going to some conference, the editor can call me and say: “So, turn around 360 degrees and go completely the other way, because something happened, someone was bought and an emergency conference was convened.” But this happens rarely because it is specific to newsletters. Expert is not a news publication; it is not TASS, not Russia Today. Therefore, the experts of “Expert” are very different from the journalists of news agencies.
Of course, we focus on news feeds and often attend the same events as newsmen, but we don’t care about what they record, speak to the editor by phone and release it on news feeds. There is journalism of facts, we have opinions and analytics. If news agencies report what happened, we explain why.
Now, as you might suppose, the most important and key topic is a coronavirus. Since our department focuses on consumer demand, we will investigate the problem in terms of diverse markets. The emphasis will be placed on demand, prices, the current market situation, and what is changing in it. And there is, for example, a department of management and companies. They write about the same thing, but precisely from the point of view of company management. The same companies may even participate in our materials, the same speakers, but the emphasis of the materials will be different.
Another important factor in choosing topics for the room is a novelty. If the information was written even 10 years ago, it will not work. That is, information is never repeated. Companies may be repeated. For example, I wrote about the actively developing company in the fishing complex. She wrote about them in 2008, then five years later. And after about five years there may be a repeat, even a case about the same company, but if something happened for them – a change of strategy, the introduction of some new tools or the expansion of markets, whatever, but this should be a completely different material.
For example, I recently published material on the Ascona company. Previously, they were written about them twelve years ago. Then another journalist even prepared an article, there were other speakers, the company’s development strategy was completely different. I came to the company now, looked at how they work, what they do, and the agenda itself was different from what it was twelve years ago. If then we talked about the product they make, now it was more strategic things.
All this specificity requires a very painstaking search for speakers from our publication and, in a sense, sets the criteria for their selection.
What kind of expert is the Expert journalist looking for and where
Of course, we are interested in speakers from various sides – both small and large businesses, but the core is medium: a successfully developing company, a Russian player. That is, they are not foreigners who are doing well, namely, a domestic enterprise. You know, such gazelle companies are rapidly gaining speed and showing good results. It is clear that in a crisis it is difficult to find such, but we are trying.
Inside the company, “Expert”, of course, is interested in the owner, top management or those people who can talk, can express their point of view, position, how to do better in the market and in their company.
Where do we usually look for them? Firstly, there is a base that everyone in the magazine uses, in addition, each journalist has his own base, which he gains during his development and work, and, of course, we all share contacts with colleagues. That is – the usual classic “Notepad” scheme – there is one big editorial notebook and each one has its own.
The problem with this scheme is that now the contacts are very quickly becoming obsolete, and neither the editorial office nor an individual journalist has to maintain the relevance of the database of extra time resources. For example, I came to the Moscow editorial office from a regional Siberian unit in 2008 and the commentator pool, which was 12 years ago, for the most part, is no longer relevant today.
In addition, due to the specifics of the publication, we often need narrow-profile contacts, which are sometimes not humanly possible to find, at least promptly.
Buzzfeed has become a source of operational and unique contacts
As I said above, the need to expand our contact base has ripened for a long time. The department head said to me: “It’s time for you to expand your contact base.” The reasons for this are objective and lie on the surface: those speakers with whom you constantly communicate cannot constantly be experts from room to room, and it is good when the range of commentators increases. There are, of course, wonderful speakers, called “talking heads,” stars — representatives of companies that can give an exhaustive answer on any topic and make a forecast. But after all, it is not very interesting for the reader to constantly read the same speaker from room to room.
I was introduced to Buzzfeed by a colleague, Alexey Grammatchikov, a very active journalist in our department who writes about cars and everything related to IT, its topics often intersect with those of science and technology. I started using the service only a year ago and managed to send only seven requests. All but one brought an excellent result, which, in the end, resulted in ready-made materials on the pages of the Expert. I’ll tell you how I work with Buzzfeed.
From recent examples of articles for the preparation of which I used the service, the material “The virus gave complications”. When the coronavirus was just beginning, we wrote the big topic of the issue specifically about China – how the coronavirus will affect the Chinese economy. Since I work with the consumer market, I was given the task to look at the tourism sector. It is not the impact of the situation on tourism in Russia, but how the coronavirus affects the economy of China and the economies of the Asian region.
It would not be difficult to find experts who would say what will happen to tourism in Russia: conferences with market participants and key figures were held almost daily in an accessible format. Of course, this is also important, but we had a different task. It was important for us to take the international market, and since I did not often or never write about this topic, it was difficult for me to find such speakers and, accordingly, I turned to Buzzfeed and using the service I found three speakers. This gave me a great head start in time for preparing the material.
There was one answer that had to be rejected. He just touched directly on the Russian market. The speaker gave an answer, without consulting me, without talking, just what is called urban, dumped the answer.
And here is precisely the subtlety of our work with speakers: in 80% of cases, we do not take ready-made answers. Our principle in the preparation of the material is only interviews with speakers. In some cases, in order to prepare a “note” on three pages per issue, I decode up to 50 thousand characters.
Initially, of course, the speaker, and more often his PR manager, can give a written answer, but we always try to translate the contact into the conversation.
We agree to phone at such a time or to meet with the speaker and discuss the topic. Because very often in written answers the answer to our question is not given. Either it is incomplete, or even more, questions arise.
First, in order to write, you need to build the logic of the text: before you write a sufficiently deep, comprehensive article, you need to draw it. What comes from, how, and why – a certain article model. Moreover, when constructing this model, it is also necessary to take into account interestingness – so that it can be read, so that it is interesting so that the person on the first or second page does not leave.
It should be noted that some experts respond quite well to writing. But the priority is still for those who can talk. As a rule, in a conversation, we find that unique information that has not yet been spoken out anywhere, which is not described anywhere. The famous exclusivity of Expert materials is born precisely in a conversation with speakers. When I interview, it can last 3.5 hours, like as leading Construction Company.
The main criteria for the selection of speakers are to be consistent with the topic and to be able to say something, evaluate and speak out on the situation in their market. As a rule, our respondent is a person who makes decisions in the company.
Sometimes there were situations when I met with PR managers, and it turned out that I – a journalist – owned more information about their own company than a PR man. And you tell them how old the company is, what they do, what strategy, although I found all this information before meeting with the PR manager in absolutely open sources – I looked what they wrote about the company, what the head said in other media earlier, and the person who works, doesn’t even know the milestones of the company’s development including legalities. Therefore, we are interested in talking with those who make decisions.
How to Avoid Buzzfeed Errors
There were times when working with Buzzfeed and such that the request did not receive the necessary answer. For example, my last request was answered more than ten times, and the answers were very interesting, but none of them corresponded to my goals.
I analyzed and realized that I might have made a mistake myself: I didn’t quite accurately indicate what I needed and which speakers I needed. We prepared a wide material about sharing economy, and my task was to cover only one narrow part of the market – renting things. In the request, I indicated that I was looking for a “non-food business that is developing according to the sharing model” and that’s all. That is, it didn’t make it clear to possible speakers that I needed commentators in the field of renting things. And the answers came from all possible areas – office-sharing, auto-sharing, food-sharing, and just-not-sharing, but not a single expert in “my” niche.
I had to answer everyone: “Thank you, thank you” – and send it to my colleagues. It so happened that I helped everyone, but to my part of the material, I did not find speakers. But I realized that this topic is so broad, sharing exists in such areas that we did not even take into the initial development.
What do we have in the end? In the modern rhythm of information exchange, even such deeply analytical publications as Experts are obliged to be “on the topic”, obliged to keep pace with rapidly obsolete information and, in particular, to ensure a flow of relevant speakers, heroes, and experts in their publications.
Buzzfeed service helps in this, but, like in any technical solution, there is a slight error on the human factor: it’s not always habitual for journalists to use a new tool, not always adequate contact, on the other hand, from speakers or their representatives.
Both of them need to study the algorithms of the service, and then a mutually beneficial result will not belong in coming. There are many examples of this, and every day there are more.